Anguilla is one of the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, lying east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and directly north of Saint Martin. Dedicated postal stamp issues for the small Caribbean island begin in 1967 and celebrate its peaceful and colourful culture. However, a stamp issue of 1976 provides insight of the military battles fought on land and on the high seas surrounding the small island.
On 8 November 1976, Anguilla issued a particularly striking set of six stamps commemorating the Battle for Anguilla. An online search on the history of this event is likely to reference a military land engagement that took place on the island in June 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession. However, the stamp issue actually refers to a sea battle that took place more than 50 years later in June 1796 during the time of the French Revolution.
The French privateer and revolutionary leader, Victor Hughes led an expedition of several hundred men in two frigates, the La Vaillante (4 guns) and the Le Desius (30 guns). Hughes paid little regard to instructions from the revolutionary leaders in Paris and set out to devastate Anguilla. His forces landed at Rendezvous Bay, the landing site of French forces during the earlier battle in 1745. The land engagement was said to be vicious with widespread looting and plundering.
A sloop by the name of Margaret left Aguilla with news of the attack, which reached Captain Barton of H.M.S. Lapwing (76 guns) that had been stationed at Basseterre, St Kitts. The French, who had faced determined resistance from local inhabitants, hastily re-embarked their ships and faced H.M.S. Lapwing in a brief sea battle. La Vaillante was forced aground at St Martin and Le Desius was so riddled by shot that she was easily captured and torched.
Sadly, the land engagement that preceded the sea battle is less well recorded but it is understood that the local inhabitants had taken up resistance at Sandy Hill Fort (now the site of a Government building). Under the command of Deputy Governor Benjamin Gumbs, Anguilla’s militia were able to harass and delay the vastly superior French forces.
The stamps in the issue commemorate the 220th anniversary of the battle and comprise the following denominations:
1c French ships approaching Anguilla
3c Margaret (sloop) leaving Anguilla
15c Capture of Le Desius
25c La Vaillante forced aground
$1 H.M.S. Lapwing
$1.50 Le Desius burning
Victor Hughes survived the Battle for Anguilla and later declared war on the United States which he accused of selling arms and ships to Britain. His attacks on American shipping were initially successful but his influence dwindled in light of the subsequent American declaration of war on France and later Napoleonic wars.
To view postal issues of Anguilla, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.